I’m breaking the pattern of alternating Flash Retrospective and Bookcase Exploration.
You see, I’m a slave to order, patterns, and habit. It’s my nature, but I got me a notion to liberate my creative side, my free spirit . . . and for that I need to let go of what feels ‘right’ – order, repetition, predictability – in favor of chaos, impetuousness, and unpredictability.
Actually, these flash posts are easier and faster to put together than the Bookcase posts, and I am pressed for time.
Before I get to the two flash (back) stories for today, a photo from 11 years ago – Kuai’s shoreline in front of the Hyatt Regency.
It’s one of those photos I come back to time and again . . . memories of a great vacation, a place that seems beyond the poisonous touch of the world’s problems; a photo from a more innocent age when we still believed politicians represented our interests (they don’t), when companies seemed to care about customers, about their employees, about their responsibilities beyond making as much money as they could at all costs and without regard to damaging people and places (they don’t, and don’t acknowledge any such responsibility – why they buy politicians), and a time when the promises of the future were not something one contemplated with dread.
Enough cheerful stuff . . .
First up is a tragic tale of hopes and dreams, of sadness, of loss . . . all wrapped in a history lesson about a place near where I live.
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright July 2013
Usually death cleanses memories of past events, of eons that flashed as the sum totals of bright streaks of life. Thus I remember little of my previous lives, but this one tale I recall clearly. . . The story is a sad one, and I only repeat it so that others may learn from it.
Were that I had been there to perhaps affect the course of events, but time is indeed a river, and it does not lightly suffer changes to its path.
The year was 1878, and Palmer Lake, Colorado, near where I currently live, was coming into its own. The fertile valley, the abundant water, and the railroad, all combined to make this a thriving and growing business hub.
Back East, an 18 year old girl dreamed of a good man, a gentle man, to help her start a family, to embark with her on her life’s journey. Unlike most women, she had no use for the “bad boy” type. It came to pass she fell in love with Justin. He had served as a scout in the army, and was now looking to settle down; to start a family, and create life instead of ending it.
They met, they courted, and soon enough Justin proposed. Evelyn did not hesitate, and they were married shortly after.
The universe seemed poised to gift them both happy lives, but the universe can play cruel tricks, and do so for no more reason than a capricious whim. Justin lost his job, and shortly after, the army pension stopped as well. Evelyn had a job at the local bakery, and a good thing too, or they would have been unable to buy even what meager food they could afford.
The days, then weeks, passed, and Justin was unable to find employment. In self pity and self loathing did he find solace with the idea of his wife supporting him, and that lead to the bottle. Justin was not a “good” drunk; when drunk, his frustration would wake the man inside, and that man liked to hit, and not lightly, either.
Evelyn stood it as long as she could, but eventually realized the truth of it; he meant to kill her. Not intentionally, but the shame that drove the drunk side of him saw her as the embodiment of his failures.
One morning, as he lay snoring on the front steps, she packed what little she owned, and made her way to the train station. As luck would have it, this train rode all the way to Palmer Lake, Colorado. There it would load up with local goods, pack them in ice, and haul them East. In return, it would bring the trappings of society to the small frontier town.
Evelyn did not know all this when she purchased her ticket. All she knew was that she had to get away.
She stepped off the train at Palmer Lake, and saw something that caught her interest.
the sign said. It hung on the window to the town’s newspaper’s office. She knew nothing about it, but she could read and write better than most, and that gave her the advantage she needed to land the job.
The editor was an old hand at evaluating people, and knew something was amiss when he asked her name.
“Ev . . . Eleanor,” she had answered, “Eleanor Font, but people call me Elle.”
The editor almost asked for her story, but knew she wanted to leave that in her past. She was here to make a new life.
“You’re hired!” brought a huge smile to her lips.
She enjoyed it so, learning the newspaper business. Having a job gave her satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and most of all, a sense of independence. Plus, she could afford to buy the frilly things she still liked.
Within a few months she was writing a tourism column, highlighting the red rocks overlooking the town as attractions. They offered places where a person could forget the bounds of mortality, and commune for a few brief moments with the ageless formations that saw so many bright flashes of life come and go.
As more people from Denver came down for weekend trips to enjoy the beauty of the red rocks, she opened up a side business, selling picnic baskets to the tourists. For a small fee, she would also lead them to her favorite formations, telling them of happy and sad tales of indians who were slowly becoming nothing more than curiosities, but had once lived in the shadow of the red rocks.
That’s how she met Hank. He was the kind of man she had sought so long ago. Still hesitant, they had begun a cautious journey toward what they hoped would be a future together.
Her fame spread, and, unbeknownst to Elle, a passing traveler wrote a freelance piece about her. He sold it to a paper back East. People there were fascinated by the West, and were always hungry for details about Western life.
That’s how Justin came to find out where his Evelyn had gone. He boarded the next train bound for Palmer Lake, the angry man inside barely kept in check.
Elle always looked at the new arrivals, and when the train pulled up to the small station, she saw Justin get off. He looked around, and then made a beeline for the newspaper office. In a panic, she ran to the back, and out the rear entrance. Her horse and wagon were there, and she rode off in them, just as Justin stepped from the building. Justin watched her for a moment, and then grabbed the nearest horse, giving chase.
Elle headed to the only refuge she knew; her beloved red rocks. At the base of them, she left the horse and carriage, and made her way up to her favorite spot. Justin followed, screaming her name.
Witnesses, hearing the commotion, saw the tragedy unfold. Elle, at the edge of a drop-off, Justin standing still, arm outstretched toward her, 60 to 70 feet away. They heard him yell “Nooo!” as Elle turned, and stepped off the cliff. They saw him drop to his knees, his head slowly sinking to touch the red rock.
One cannot know the reason for Elle’s actions. No one blamed Justin, but himself. Within three months, Justin had drank himself to death.
Elle’s funeral was attended by hundreds, possibly thousands. The rock she loved so much was named after her . . . Elle Font Rock.
As often it goes, the details of the story were, over time, garbled by ignorant and dim-witted people, and eventually, without rhyme or reason, the rock came to be known as Elephant Rock.
But I remember . . .
This story came from a pun first made (HERE), and I felt it was time to expand it, letting the full weight of it be carried in the minds of men (and women). The story and pun relate to Palmer Lake’s Elephant Rock, shown below.
There are those who maintain a different history for Elephant Rock, but the pun alone should make the above the preferred version in the minds of men (and women).
My second story drew on an actual incident while we both lived in Carbondale, and worked at crappy jobs as I nearly worked my way through graduate school. The story itself was written in response to one of Conrad’s prompts, and the comments expand a bit on the concept and the basis for the story.
As usual, please excuse stupid mistakes (but please, do point them out) as I get these out pretty quick and with minimal editing.
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright September 2013
Marisa lifted the hopper cover. She sighed, and cleared the jam from the feeder. Closing the cover, she gave an expert hit to the lower portion of the hopper using her palm, and then leaned over to press the “Clear” and the “Start” buttons.
The pills resumed flowing, filling each bottle with the proper number of . . . what where they? Oh, yeah . . . Peruvian superfast slimming and toning herbal miracle powder; all natural, all organic, and used by the ancients to prolong life and promote a healthy and youthful appearance.
Marisa off-handedly pondered the fact “the ancients” life expectancy was half that of modern humans . . . half the grief, worry, and misery.
Her mind wandered, as it often did, thinking back to the twists and turns of her life. She had lived through the late stages of the middle-class boom, the beginning of its demise, starting with financial crisis after financial crisis, and ending with the rise of powerful interest groups who, after a while, did not care if everyone knew they owned Senators and Congressmen.
Opportunities dwindled, good jobs slowly disappeared, and menial jobs became the norm. Jobs like working at this pill factory, without benefits, and barely making enough to pay for food. The government took up the slack, providing all sorts of “free” benefits. The ancients might have called it slavery. The politically correct term was “contributing” to society.
Mark had called it; he had seen it coming, and it was the reason he had risked the asteroid mining run. He knew they had no hope of beating a system designed to keep everyone in their place. He called it “the return to feudal times”, where privileged individuals enjoyed the benefits of technological wonders, medical advances, lives of incredible luxury, and never gave a thought to the vast majority of people struggling with little hope beyond that of survival.
The offer was tempting. Riding on a mostly automated mining spaceship, all one had to do was make the run to the asteroid belt, return, and be set for life with an above-average pension, guaranteed housing, and free basic medical.
Still, Mark would not have tried it without the added insurance; should the person die during the trip, their family would be entitled to those same benefits. Marisa had argued, pleaded, threatened, but ultimately could not stop him from going; he was doing it for them both, but mostly for her.
Eighteen months out, on the return leg, the signals from the ship had stopped. One year later Marisa learned about the buried clause in the contract Mark had signed. Without telemetry reports that the ship had malfunctioned, it was assumed the pilot had either erred, or intentionally sabotaged the mission, and no benefits would be paid to the survivors.
That had been nine years ago, and she had been single ever since. She could not accept that Mark was gone, and besides, he was the only one for her, her soul mate, and no one could ever take his place.
But single people did not fare well in the system; they could not earn enough on their own, and they did not qualify for as many benefits. She could no longer afford an apartment, and now lived in one of the many group homes. She could barely afford the fees, but at least it was shelter. Still, there was no hope of ever leaving the place.
Marisa’s focus returned to the present upon hearing a buzzing. An electrical malfunction; smoke was seeping from behind the control panel. She removed her gloves so she could pry the panel open. It finally came loose, and the hose used to transport the cleaning acid sprayed her face and hands; a melting wire had cut through it.
Marisa staggered backwards, unable to open her eyes, and unwilling to use her hands to wipe them; like her eyes, they too were burning. Her involuntary yell and movement caught the attention of the shift supervisor. The supervisor rushed her to the washing station, and rinsed both her eyes and hands. Finally able to see, Marisa looked at the supervisor; the woman was not happy. This was going to cut into production quotas, and also required reporting a safety occurrence.
“May I go to the restroom to wash up?” Marisa asked, wanting to soothe the lingering burning to her hands and eyes.
“Your break is not for another half hour.” The woman motioned to the repair crew that had been alerted to the problem, pointing them to her machine. “You can work at one of the auxiliary machines until then.”
Marisa looked at the woman. Perhaps frustration, perhaps anger, perhaps just common sense made her reply.
Turning, Marisa walked toward the restroom. When she came out, both her shift supervisor and the plant manager were waiting for her.
“To my office.” The man did not wait for an answer; he just headed off.
Marisa followed, still clutching the wet paper towel, occasionally using it to wipe her eyes.
The office was stark; a desk, a table, and two chairs. The man motioned for her to sit.
Marisa shook her head. She was not going to have him tower over her. “No thanks; I sit all day.”
The man sat behind the desk. He looked at her; he was half smiling.
“Leaving your post is cause for dismissal. As you know, we have a long list of applicants waiting to take your place.” The man enjoyed what little power he had, and leveraged it whenever he could.
“Please,” Marisa tried, and almost succeeded, in keeping her voice from trembling, “I need this job. I’m a good worker, and always exceed my quota. This was an accident.”
“Well, you did walk away from your station when asked to return to it.” The man stood, and came around the desk. He was her height, but still tried towering over her. “Now, I suppose I could be persuaded to be lenient . . .” He let the word hang out there, looking at Marisa with an even bigger grin on his face.
Marisa looked at him for a few seconds. “I would rather die.”
The man lost his smile, and was about to answer when a strange sound began to grow. Sirens could be heard approaching, and then the sound of helicopters, and what could only be a couple of low-flying military jets. The man ran to the window, looked out, and then ran out the office door, yelling “Stay here!” as he went.
Wiping her eyes, Marisa went to the window.
She had never seen anything like it; no one had. There, in the front of the building, hovering about forty feet off the ground, sat a craft with strange markings. It was big, at least sixty feet long, but not as big as what cast a shadow over the whole parking lot . . . that craft hovered a couple of hundred feet from the ground. It was difficult to see it all, but Marisa guessed it was at least three hundred feet long and at least a hundred and fifty feet wide. The indentation on its underside matched the shape of the smaller craft, which was now extending a ramp.
The metal being that came out was at least seven feet tall. As it stepped off the ramp, a dozen police cars stopped on a semi-circle in front of it. The policemen exited the cars, weapons drawn, and used the cars as shields as they trained their weapons at the robot.
Marisa ran out of the room. She wanted to witness first hand the first human contact with an alien race, even if it was a robot. As she ran down the stairs, she absentmindedly thought robot overlords could not be any worse than human overlords.
A few people had ventured outside, but most choked the exit, preferring to remain in the safety of the building. She pushed her way through layers of people, finally standing outside, no more than one hundred feet from the robot.
The robot faced the officers. Regular army personnel had joined the officer’s ranks. The robot did not move as it stared down the barrels of a number of weapons. By then, the helicopter gunships were coming into position, one opposite Marisa, and one off to her side.
The robot looked at the far gunship, and then turned to look at the other. In the process, it turned toward Marisa. It stopped in mid-turn, and seemed to focus on her. It took a step toward her just as the bullhorn blared.
The robot slowly lifted one arm. The hand, or what passed for a hand, resembled a closed fist, and as it rose, a finger-like protrusion extended. It pointed above them.
Everyone looked up. The big ship was nearly silent, and remained silent as port after port opened on its underside, and all manner of barrels protruded from the openings. Along the periphery, shutters opened, and what looked like articulated weapons dropped, each acting independently and focusing on different targets.
The robot resumed walking toward Marisa, who took an involuntary step back.
It stopped a few feet from her, and extended its other hand, also looking like a closed fist. The hand stopped a foot from her chest, and slowly opened.
It took a few moments for Marisa to recognize Mark’s wedding ring. Her eyes swelled with tears as she reached for it. Lifting it gently from the outstretched hand, Marisa clutched it to her chest, her eyes closed in grief.
After a few moments, she opened her eyes. The robot had not moved, and stood in front of her with its hand still outstretched.
Marisa looked up at its head. As she did, letters words began to scroll across the featureless metal.
“Mark is waiting. He sent me to get you off this rock.”
I’ll let readers in on a secret (or maybe not so much of a secret) . . . I want off this rock as well.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.